Thank Thatcher For Art Boom, Say Gilbert & George

Gilbert & George court controversy in statement that Thatcherism is responsible for present-day art boom

Speaking to the New Statesman about the current artistic climate, they declared the artworld ‘fantastic – never were there so many living artists making a living, thanks to the free- market economy.’ They detect an irony in the centre-left leanings of most artists (‘saying you were Conservative was like committing suicide in the art world’): ‘We came out of socialism; the baby artists [i.e. the artists working today] came out of the Thatcher generation. They don’t like that, but they did.’ Its ‘Because she deregulated everything, so they could become rich, the artists, for the first time. Before that they had to be art-school teachers mostly’, they explained.

And Thatcherism’s had a wider effect than simply making artists rich, they say; ‘Now London’s the centre of the art world and the public take a huge interest, too’. They tell of ‘an experiment [that they undertook] when we were baby artists walking all the way through London and asking people to name a living artist. Nobody could – they knew a living murderer, sportsman, politician, skater, boxer, anything’: ‘Now everyone knows the name of a living artist . . .’

The tying of Thatcherism to the artworld boom is controversial, and G&G know this: ‘Even now in the art world it’s like saying you’re a Nazi fighter pilot. We don’t understand that, because you can discuss left or right or Labour and Conservative with waiters or taxi drivers – but not in the art world.’ But, they argue, they are the ones being more honest, especially given that ‘the [art]world is all based on capitalism anyway. Only the rich can buy art!’

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